Thursday, August 20, 2009

Burrito King

Lunch Blog's #1 BK. Runners-up: Batman creator Bob Kane, British Knights.

As soon as my college roommate Ben learned a new joint called Burrito King was setting up shop in the restaurant black hole at the corner of 9th & Illinois, he was obsessed. I think he drove by nearly every day to see if it was open yet. And when that day finally came, he showed uncanny restraint -- Ben actually came back to the apartment to pick me up before getting a burrito.

So yeah, the day Burrito King opened for business in the spring of '96, I was there. No big deal. (It's totally a big deal. Man, this post took no time devolving into the "Losing My Edge" of fast food.)

I ended up going back with our other roommate Dorsett for my second BK burrito later that night. Or maybe it was the night after.

I'll go ahead and admit that I may be getting some details mixed up. Not only was this more than a decade ago, it was in the thick of the 951 Arkansas $5 PBR Challenge -- an ongoing contest in which Ben, Dorsett and I competed to see who could get the most change back from a $5 bill when purchasing a twelver of Blue Ribbon. While I was the ultimate champion, that much I'm sure of, I can't remember how much my victory change added up to except that it was eighty-something cents. We may have been single-handedly responsible for driving up the cost of PBR.

Back to Burrito King. Were the burritos good? Yes, they were good -- and after last call, they were fantastic. The foil-wrapped burritos were huge, stuffed with your choice of fajita beef, pork or chicken, rice and/or beans, and lettuce, tomato, sour cream and cheese. We quickly discovered that no matter how you picked up a BK burrito, there was always a sour cream pocket waiting in the bottom right-hand corner.

They also came with a little cup of some seriously tasty red sauce. We'd save the leftover red sauce in the fridge and dip our microwave burritos in it -- burritos of one form or another were a staple of my college diet, the rest consisting almost entirely of Chinese buffets, Jeno's Crisp 'n Tasty Pizzas and Shells & White Cheddar Pasta Roni.

Burrito King was great late night food, yet I was always curious about the breakfast burritos on the menu. Filled with beans, eggs and cheese, plus either ham, bacon, potato or chorizo, they sounded so delicious but were only available from 7 to 10:30 a.m.

At long last I tried a BK breakfast burrito fall semester 1997, en route to KJHK 90.7 FM and needing something to hold me through my Friday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. shift. The burrito was incredible, and from then on I got one every week before going on the air. My standard was the chorizo, which at the time seemed rather exotic.

Flash forward to 2009. Realizing I've been working in Lawrence since January and hadn't been back to the "Home of the Famous Burrito!," fellow Burrito King enthusiast Kelly L. and first-timer Todd joined me for a trip the other day.

I am ridiculously excited to tell you that the breakfast burritos ($2.79) are now available All. Day. Long. They're as awesome as ever, and so is the red sauce.

The Burrito King building looks the same, too -- which is to say it looks like it could go out of business at any moment. It's still got that '90s dinge, although I can't remember if the sombreroed Jayhawk has always been there.

Much like Gumby's, the Burrito King menu has gotten complicated since I was in school. There are tortas, tostadas and tacos now. And tongue. And barbacoa by the pound. A sign in the window says Burrito King has the "Best Soft Mexican Tacos in Town." Opposed to what other kind of soft tacos, I have no idea.

As the Dark Empire of Chipotle ascended to power during the Great Foil Wars of the early aughts, it laid waste unto many. New York Burrito. Z-Teca. Qdoba Mexican Grill. But even after all this time, Burrito King continues to lead the rebellion, steadfastly holding its ground at the corner of 9th & Illinois. Yub nub, Burrito King! Yub nub!

I think we can all agree it helps that Burrito King is only closed for four hours a day.
900 Illinois | Lawrence, KS 66044


  1. TONGUE!? I'd love me a tongue burrito. Now THAT'S a soft Mexican taco right there, amigo. I'd like to just see Chipotle try and move some tongue. Yeah, right.

  2. Opened up? Burrito King has been there pre-2003

  3. I'm missing burrito king. I lived in 98 on 9th and used to stumble dodging traffic to get burritos.i can taste them..and that red sauce. I just heard it's new owners. Has the food changed at all?

  4. I miss Burrito King. In 98, I lived on 9th and I used to stumble down the hill, dodging cars to get my burritos. The chicken with rice and that red sauce..after hours. They're so good they're bad. I can't tell you how many times I fell asleep with a burrito next to me, waiting for me in the morning. (Not in bed) I heard that there are new owners and I want to this the same taste of burrito king from the 90s@!